How to identify (and fix) thin content

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The main purpose of your website is for it to be of use to your visitors, and Google agrees, which is exactly why it hates thin content. Yet a huge number of website owners have been hit by manual penalties from Google – it seems the search engine has begun cracking the whip again.

To prevent your site being penalised, it’s vital to understand exactly what thin content is, and how it can be fixed.

What is thin content, and why is it a problem?

Thin content is content Google deems to be of little or no value. Many assume this is due to a low word count, but this is not always the case. The content may be auto-generated, copied from somewhere else or simply filled with spelling and grammatical errors. If Google doesn’t think visitors will find this page helpful or useful, the content is classed as ‘thin’, and you could end up being hit by Google’s Panda algorithm.

Thin content is a problem for a number of reasons; not only will your search visibility be impacted by Panda and any manual penalties, your users will suffer too. Pages which have little or no use will slow down the user journey and make it unnecessarily difficult for visitors to find what they are looking for. This is exactly why Google punishes sites with poor content on them. Why would it want to send browsers to an unhelpful page or site, when it can send them to a much better one?

How do we identify thin content?

Thin content can typically be identified by one or more of the following characteristics:

  • A low word count
  • Copied internally a number of times on the same site
  • Taken from other external resources
  • Does not provide unique value or depth on the subject
  • Has no real purpose (content for content’s sake)
  • Poorly written with spelling or grammar issues

Our Apollo Insights software helps us find these problematic pages, as we can view the word count of each page. Moreover, it also audits each site automatically, allowing our specialists to see where any problems may lie.

Technical audit algorithm in Apollo

How can you fix it?

So, you’ve found some thin content on your site. The next thing you should do is decide whether to remove, rewrite, expand on or replace the content in question. If you’re unsure which option would be best, check out our blog ‘Should you delete dead web pages?’.

The strategy you take to improve the thin content will partly depend on the initial identification issue. For example if the content is duplicated across several pages of your site, you may decide to create a content hub, so that all the relevant information is in one place.

We did precisely that for waste management solutions firm, Betts Envirometal. Lee Wilson, Head of Delivery, explains: “After identifying an opportunity within Apollo Insights for untapped sector-specific visibility, we started to implement a new sector specific waste management content hub in the customer site,” he states.

“As the audience was B2B, an important goal was to create a resource which would enable lots of varied industries to see the immediate value of the customer service and access information that would empower them to contact the Betts team.”

Since implementation, the content hub now drives the most landing page visits to the site (excluding the home page), and the increase in traffic really does speak for itself:

Website performance stats

You can also fix thin content by rewriting it and bulking it up. Many eCommerce sites, for example, tend to have very little text on their product pages, as a lot of the things they sell are quite similar. Instead of writing the same product description over and over again, we ensure that all the content is unique. Not only does increasing the amount of unique content on page make the site look good in Google’s eyes, it’s also helpful to your customers. They are now able to see a much more detailed explanation of the product, so they know exactly what they are buying without having to contact the company or conduct their own external research. This will make them much more likely to make a purchase then and there, rather than leaving to check out your competitors’ websites.

Another potential fix is to conduct technical site updates to resolve duplicate URL creation. You can also ask your users for feedback on your content via surveys. This way, you know you’re creating content your users actually want to read.

How to ensure the content you produce is never thin

Of course, prevention is always better than cure.

“Ideally, prior to creating content, you will be thinking of the intended audience, their requirements, and the unique value that can be derived from your content,” Lee says.

Essentially, you need to write high quality content that your audience will find useful. This may sound easy, and you may think you’re doing this already, but this isn’t always the case. Here are some measures you can take to ensure you don’t end up with thin content:

  • Hire professional writers to create your content
  • Don’t copy content – either from your own site or a competitor’s
  • Set a minimum word count and stick to it
  • Don’t write content for content’s sake
  • Don’t spam keywords or phrases; if you want to include them, do so as naturally as possible
  • Ensure that all content is edited and fact-checked by a writer (someone other than the author)

Google has recently (August 2019), re-released it’s list of content evaluation questions, in relation to trying to help people suffering after a core update, and we highly recommend you ask these questions of any content you produce:

Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?

Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?

Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?

Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?

Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?

Expertise questions.

Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?

If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?

Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?

Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?

Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?

Presentation and production questions.

Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?

Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?

Comparative questions.

Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

After you’ve written or expanded any content, don’t forget to measure whether it has had the desired effect on your site or not.

Still need more help?

If your site is suffering at the fuzzy hand of a Panda penalty, we can help! Get in touch with our SEO and content marketing experts today, by calling 0345 123 2753 or filling out our contact form.

Kerry Dye profile picture
Kerry Dye

Kerry has been working in digital marketing almost since the beginning of the World Wide Web, designing her first website in 1995 and moving fully into the industry in 1996 to work for one of the very first web design companies. After a successful four years, Kerry moved to an in-house position for a sailing company, running the digital presence of their yacht races including SEO, PPC and email marketing as the primary channels. A stint then followed at another in-house role as online marketing manager. Kerry moved to Vertical Leap in 2007, making her one of the company’s longest-serving employees. As a T-shaped marketer – able to advise on digital strategy outside her main specialism – she rose through the ranks and in 2012 became the head of the Small and Medium Business (SMB) SEO team. In 2022 she became Vertical Leap's Automation and Process Manager. Kerry lives in the historic town of Bishops Waltham with her husband and daughter. When she’s not at work she enjoys cooking proper food, curling up with a good book and being a leader for Brownie and Rainbow Guides.

More articles by Kerry
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